In these dark days at the end of the year -- twilight begins between two and three p.m. here -- I treasure the light even more than usual. A few days ago I watched the winter solstice sunrise at Avebury, a village of sacred stone circles about 19 miles from Stonehenge -- but even older than that more famous site.
In those fields of crop circles, cows and sheep, appreciation for light in winter reaches near-mystical levels, a throwback to the relatively recent times when families closed their doors as soon as dark fell, and only jumping flames from cook fires and candles lit their nights.
My friends were astonished I chose to be in England. "You've written a book about the Maya, spent years in their lands. Why aren't you going to be at a Maya site?" As the last day of the 5,126-year Maya calendar, 2012 was a very special solstice indeed in Maya country, in the rain forests and highlands of Central America. But I reckoned sacred sites the world over shared something, that the priests and commoners of ancient Maya lands would understand those who worked to place giant stones just so among Avebury's green fields, both peoples honoring Mother Earth and the sun that warmed her, providing them with food.
Exactly one year ago, in 2011, I did go to a Maya site for the winter solstice. Earlier this month, the travel writing site, Gadling.com, ran my account of that visit.
SUNRISE AT IZAPA, MEXICO, THE PLACE WHERE TIME BEGAN
WINTER SOLSTICE, 2011 – The darkness enveloped us like a warm blanket as we walked carefully toward the center of the ancient ruins of Izapa. We carried a flashlight but did not turn it on, believing our eyes would adjust to the dark. With no warning, from the direction where I thought the royal throne should be, light shot into our eyes, blinding us to a halt.